A number of programs treat adults who abuse alcohol and drugs, but a lack of programs for adolescents represents the biggest gap in the substance abuse treatment system, according to directors of one such program.
A study conducted several years ago indicated that 13,000 Utah adolescents from 12-17 (about 7.4 percent of the total population) have "drug and alcohol abuse problems significant enough to require treatment," according to Bob Terragno, director of the Community Counseling Center.At that time, only about 300 youths were receiving help. About half of the youths who would benefit from the treatment reside in Salt Lake County.
Private psychiatric hospitals with inpatient programs have come to the fore since the study was conducted, but very few programs offer outpatient options. A 1988 Juvenile Justice Task Force cited lack of outpatient options in adolescent treatment as a major concern.
One such program, the Adolescent Substance Abuse Project (ASAP), is trying to meet that need.
"Research clearly shows that the majority of kids don't need inpatient treatment," said Patricia Hopps, clinical director at the Center.
Nine months ago, the Community Counseling Center joined forces with Salt Lake Valley Mental Health, Odyssey House Adolescent Program, the Wasatch Youth Support Systems and the Salt Lake County Drug Referral Center to form ASAP.
"What the community needs is a full continuum of services," Terragno said. "There are great advantages to this linked system, with different levels of care: outpatient, residential, day treatment. There is such a range of needs so we need a broad range of responses."
Every week, staff members from the ASAP network meet, along with invited guests from schools, youth services, corrections and other organizations. Their purpose is to provide services in the least restrictive environment and to move a client to more controlled situations only if it seems necessary.
The focus, Terragno and Hopps agreed, is to solve the addiction problem, but also to get to the causes underlying the addiction. The intensive work needed to do that sometimes includes the whole family.
"For many kids," Terragno said, "there are members of the family who can be part of the problem. About half of these kids were sexually and physically abused, neglected. Maybe mom was depressed. These adolescents are sometimes just modeling behavior."
"It's not enough to cure the addiction," Hopps added. "We need to work with the (adolescent's) environment. There's no quick cure; it can take years sometimes."
The network bases charges on a sliding-fee scale and accepts private insurance.